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Search engines for large collections of data preceded the World Wide Web by decades. There were those massive library catalogs, hand-typed with painstaking precision on index cards and eventually, to varying degrees, automated. There were the large data collections of professional information companies such as Dialog and LexisNexis. Then there are the extant private, expensive medical, real estate, and legal search services.
Those data collections were not always easy to search, but with a little finesse and a lot of patience, it was always possible to search them thoroughly. Information was grouped according to established ontologies, the data preformatted according to particular guidelines.
Then came the Web.
Information on the Web—as anyone who has ever looked at half a dozen web pages knows—is not all formatted the same way. Nor is it necessarily accurate. Nor up to date. Nor spellchecked. Nonetheless, search engines cropped up, trying to make sense of the rapidly increasing index of information online. Eventually, special syntaxes were added for searching common parts of the average web page (such as title or URL). Search engines evolved rapidly, trying to encompass all the nuances of the billions of documents online, and they continue to evolve today.
Google© threw its hat into the ring in 1998. The second incarnation of a search engine service known as BackRub, the name Google was a play on the word googol: a one followed by a hundred zeros. From the beginning, Google was different from the other major search engines online—AltaVista, Excite, HotBot, and others.
Was it the technology? Partially. The relevance of Google's search results was outstanding. But more than that, Google's focus and more human face made it stand out online.
With its friendly presentation and constantly expanding set of options, it's no surprise that Google continues to draw lots of fans. There are weblogs devoted to it. Search engine newsletters, such as ResearchBuzz, spend a lot of time covering Google. Legions of devoted fans spend a lot of time uncovering undocumented features, creating games (such as Google whacking), and even coining new words (such as Googling, the practice of checking out a prospective date or hire via Google's search engine.) People Google prospective employers and blind dates; goods and services; school reports and movie reviews; facts and fiction; fun and profit.
At the time of this writing, Google knows about more than eight billion web pages, over 880 million images, and 845 million Usenet messages and has just announced Google Print (http://print.google.com), bringing even the printed word to the Web.
In April 2002, Google reached out to its fan base by offering the Google API. The Google API gives programmers a way to access the Google search results with automated queries. While you can do all the searching, sifting, and sorting by hand, there's nothing like getting your computer to do it for you.
Google has changed the way people and computers alike approach the Web.
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